Current Issue #488

Private school building bid prompts park lands probe

Prince Alfred College’s planned ‘sports hub’ for Park 9 Tidlangga

Adelaide is experiencing a park lands sports facility building boom – and it’s quietly changing the landscapes of some of the parks.

Last month’s 6 August Adelaide Park Lands Authority (APLA) meeting laid bare the method chosen to get a quick green light for a $2.3 million sports building concept for the north park lands. Endorsement of the concept proposal by APLA was stalled on the night, but it follows several other major new sports facility developments recently completed on new, long leases at some of the park lands’ choicest playing fields.

The University of Adelaide began the sequence in 2011 (north park lands, two levels, no public consultation, 42-year lease), followed by the South Australian Cricket Association in 2016 (west, $6.55 million, three storeys, 42 years) and Adelaide Comets Football Club and Western Districts Athletics Club in 2018 (west,$3.5 million, two storeys, 21 years). Each capitalised on older leases and essentially privatised sections of parks through new lease arrangements and licence conditions that allow lessees to limit public access during licence hours, hold social functions in new, expanded facilities, and collect fresh future revenues by subleasing to other groups.

A north park lands building proposal put to the APLA board on 6 August by Prince Alfred College (PAC) featured a proposal that had been rejected by a previous board in 2017, but the August 2020 agenda papers were vague about that rejection. Other contentious matters were also poorly addressed in the agenda, until board member began probing on the night. In further APLA procedural manoeuvres, two city council policy documents (one very recently revised and sympathetic to the building concept, and another very suddenly revised to ensure the proposal was consistent with it) were used to smooth potential hurdles to approval.

The PAC bid was for a large new sports building to replace old, small changerooms and sheds. The first concept emerged in 2015 and was refined in 2017. Several contentious matters emerged at the 6 August 2020 meeting, prompting board member questions. They probed a complex matrix of issues that must be addressed when a commercial party seeks: to construct a major new, permanent building on public park lands; a long lease; a long-term licence for use of an adjacent oval; which week day and weekend events hours may later be accompanied by future liquor licensed events in and around the building.

APLA administration attempted to finalise the endorsement process by tabling a suddenly fully revised draft Community Land Management Plan (CLMP) for this single park (a procedural aberration in itself), and a draft 21-year lease (usually not circulated until final and favourable public consultation has concluded). The lease revealed that the city council would be discounting PAC’s $20,625 annual lease fee by 70 per cent, applying a peppercorn annual rent of only $6187.50, subject to four per cent increase annually.

The annual licence fee was similarly cheap at $4046.40 and contentious because it would allow PAC managers to control public use of 2.81ha of Park 9 near MacKinnon Parade, North Adelaide, all day during school terms, and every day during a six-month cricket and football season, and as late as 8.30pm weekdays and 8pm on some cricket Saturdays. This had prompted locals’ 2017 concerns about liquor licensed functions, made feasible by substantial new facilities and recreational space around the building. Some games could attract more than 250 people, creating high demand for nearby parking spaces, used by local families.

Contentious matters explored in the 6 August meeting included excessive building footprint, wrong location, and policy bans on construction of a new park lands road or car park near the building. PAC’s 2015 bid sought a much expanded building footprint of 486m²  (existing was only 315m² ). APLA’s 2017 compromise offer was for 375m² . The 6 August 2020 proposal emerged as 410m² , but the agenda paper on the night did not draw attention to that inconsistency, which was evident only in the drawings. The location was not presented in the agreed 2017 place but instead appeared further inside the park, requiring a new road ending in a car park. However, any new road or car park was explicitly ruled out in the draft CLMP tabled on the night, but the agenda paper made no mention of that.

A major public consultation issue in 2017 revealed concerns over the potential for a ‘pub in the park’ and these concerns endured. Discovery by board members at the 6 August meeting that APLA was not planning public consultation on the final building concept prompted them to demand it.

Funding for the plan was not revealed in the APLA papers, but in 2015 when a $2.5 million bid first emerged it was revealed that PAC would fund it via $800,000 from ‘donors’, $400,000 from ‘government and grants’, $650,000 from ‘sporting clubs/grassroots fundraising, and $650,000 from the school, the PAC Old Collegians Association and allied clubs.

The next most likely park lands sports building applicant will be Pulteney Grammar, which is planning a multimillion dollar development in the south park lands. Approval of its contentious two-storey concept, with a much-expanded footprint, was stalled by public objections in 2018. But the school plans to try again.

Two other sports building concepts in the south park lands are also anticipated – each will be much bigger than existing change rooms, feature new park lands car parks (where no formal car parks had existed before), and be accompanied by demands for long leases at discount rates.

John Bridgland

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